2 Americans Captured by Russian-Backed Forces Return to US Soil After Release

Americans Alexander John-Robert Drueke and Andy Tai Ngoc Huynh arrived in New York City after being released earlier this week in a prisoner swap between Russia and Ukraine brokered by Saudi Arabia. Their families said they believe the men are in good health.

“We know they talk, breathe, walk and sound like themselves,” Darla Black, the mother of Huynh’s fiancé, told CNN on Friday.

The two men were captured in June while fighting for Ukraine in a battle near Kharkov. Their pro-Russian captors, the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR), is a Russian-backed, self-proclaimed republic that has ruled a breakaway part of Ukraine’s Donetsk region since 2014.
The families of Drueke and Huynh, CNN previously reported, had not spoken to the Alabama men during their months of captivity until they received unexpected calls from the US embassy in Saudi Arabia on Wednesday.

“I have your son standing by my side,” Bunny Drueke recalled a woman from the US embassy in Saudi Arabia telling her.

The families were unaware that the prisoner swap was underway.

“My mind just couldn’t grasp it because there had been no warning. It just came out of the blue,” Drueke’s mother told CNN’s Anderson Cooper.

Huynh’s fiancée, Joy Black, told CNN’s Erin Burnett that Huynh asked for spaghetti with meat — a meal he’d been craving since he was in Ukraine — once he returns to Alabama.

Even after they were captured, their families said the men said they had no regrets about fighting the Ukrainians.

“Alex told me emphatically no, no regrets,” his aunt Dianna Shaw told CNN. “They really want people to understand that Ukraine needs our support. They need the support of all democratic nations. They need democracies to come together and push (Russian President Vladimir) Putin back.”

Four Russian-occupied territories began voting in referendums on Friday to join Russia, according to their separatist leaders, in a move that raises the stakes for the invasion of Moscow. The referendums, which are illegal under international law and dismissed as a sham by Western governments and Kiev, could pave the way for Russia’s annexation of the territories, allowing Moscow to portray the ongoing Ukrainian counter-offensive as an attack on Russia itself.
President Joe Biden said Friday that the United States would never recognize Russian referenda in the occupied parts of Ukraine.

“The United States will never recognize Ukrainian territory as anything but part of Ukraine. Russia’s referenda are a sham – a false pretext to try to annex parts of Ukraine by force, in flagrant violation of international law, including the United Nations Charter,” Biden said. said in a statement.

Shawna Mizelle and Sam Fossum of CNN contributed to this report.

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